Space has never felt more essential to us than in the past year, as we grapple with the concept of living and working from home. We not only crave it — both physically and mentally — but we seek out the best ways to make our spaces all the more livable. We add plants, buy furniture from Facebook Marketplace, and add the kind of wall art that’ll be nice to look at over breakfast. For the first time ever, perhaps, we are finally going to figure out what to do with the odd corner in the house that no one ever looks at.
For interior designer, product stylist, and spatial consultant Martina Bautista, space is a… well, familiar space for her. And despite being a licensed interior designer, she acknowledges that sometimes, designing for a particular area doesn’t always need an ID’s touch.
“I started working when I was 12… I really liked making spaces pretty. I would get random messages from [my sister’s] friends asking, “Is this nice here? Does this make sense?” You know, I’m drawn to this,” Bautista explains. “I’m drawn to this conversation where people who aren’t sure, but don’t need — I hate to say that you don’t need an interior designer to make a space pretty. I don’t claim to be the best at energies in your space, but to give you a professional’s insight like, “Oh yeah, you can put it there.” For example, it’s an [electrical] outlet. Should I put an extension cord there? Stuff like that, I find that it’s expensive to hire an interior designer to tell you not to put an extension cord.”
Since then, Bautista has made a name for herself working on residential spaces (she recently helped decorate fashion designer Vania Romoff’s children’s rooms) as well as commercial work with brands like Rustan’s and even boutique outfits like Frankie & Friends General Store and The Fore. With events, shoots, and some of her interior projects put on pause due to the on and off lockdowns, Bautista has spent the last year channeling her creativity in various ways: she’s drawn about 200 dog portraits to raise funds for medical frontliners, built on her meditation habits, and gradually built her starter home in Laguna with husband Joe Josue.
In her own words, the interior designer breaks down the rituals that surround her daily life, why her planner is practically an extra limb, and why her favorite art at home are the most personal ones.
Starting the day right
“I’m a morning person, it’s intense. We just moved to Laguna so now it’s a lot of like, I’ll wake up and I decide, am I gonna cook or am I gonna clean? And we got a Dyson, so every morning, I’m like, you know what, we’re gonna vacuum. (Laughs) But yeah, so I get up and I clean, I make breakfast, and then I usually sit down to work at like 8-8:30 [a.m.].
Many of the goals I wanted [to achieve] before lockdown were like, get a better morning ritual, and have more space to think. I think pre-lockdown in 2020 was like, wake up, put on clothes and run out of the door. Parang grind the whole day. So 2020 was like, this year’s gonna be different. This year I’m gonna learn yoga. This year I’m gonna take more time to sit down. In 2019, I was doing [design] plans in the car. It was really like, do what you can to get through the day. So I was doing pretty well in February 2020. (Laughs) I woke up in the morning, I would meditate, and I would list down everything for the day. I was doing so well. (Laughs) And then lockdown hit and I was like, well shit. (Laughs)
I was left with meditation and yoga, which I wasn’t even really committed to yet. Then we got a dog, which really helped. So my rituals were more like 6 a.m. feed the dog. You know, she helped me stabilize [myself].
When work started up again, when shoots started again, I think for a time it was really stressful cause I wasn’t sure about how to do it. But now that we’re out of the city it’s so much more… the clarity is a different level. I wake up and I ask myself, “Am I gonna clean first or am I gonna cook first?” And then it’s so much easier to make my own schedule.
No space for an office space
[When we moved to Laguna], it wasn’t so much not to live in a city, but to live in a house. And it’s so much cheaper and the oxygen here is different. We have a tree. (Laughs) It feels more like a mental space type of thing. I think that if we lived in Makati I’d be so much more… I guess I wouldn’t be as mindful in terms of… it wouldn’t feel so intentional [to work]. So now, I plan. When I go to Makati on this day, these are the things I want to do. Parang it’s more function-based.
Because we moved out of the city, it’s [been] very strict. So I have three days in Makati, and in Makati we’re doing site stuff. I do site visits, or if I have a shoot, it [usually] takes up the three days. And then the rest of the day we’re here [at home]. I made sure that when we furnished the house that I didn’t have an office. So I do have an office space in Makati. If I have a really big project, if I have a really big day, I’ll be there. At home, [the living room] is my spot. This is my Zoom background, but I had a table made so that I can work from the couch.
Home is the inspiration
My office, which has been transformed 10 million and one times during this pandemic, right now it looks like a stock room, and that’s kind of how I like it. I’m currently out of trend, because everybody’s spaces look like this white, clean everything-has-a-place type, very Japanese… My office is the opposite. I like open shelves where I can see all the props. Literally I have vases, books… I like to see the things [I have.] I don’t like lots of cabinets. I like it open so I can see it all. But to be fair, there is logic. There’s an interior design section, there’s a props section. There’s a giant dining table in the middle. I am not a desk person, so it had to be a dining table. (Laughs) That really helps, because when I’m brainstorming I can’t brainstorm in a clean space.
Here at home, because I’m still growing into it, I did find a corner where I can see my entire first floor. If I’m designing, which I’m doing now, [I would do] the plans at home, and I can see what works. I’ve never really worked well in a coffee shop, because when you’re designing a house, coffee shops aren’t the best place to do it because you don’t really see people’s home habits in a coffee shop.
On setting agendas and moods
[On workspace essentials], the most nerdy side of me will say that you need light, ventilation, and some kind of device that you have [to work with]. When I sit down here, or at the beach, or in a coffee shop, you’ll need those three things. But then the maarte side of me (Laughs) I have to have a candle. I [also] literally feel naked without my planner. Sorry, side story, but I lost my planner amidst planning my wedding. I had an emotional breakdown. I broke down more when I lost my planner than when my lola told me that she could not come to the wedding. (Laughs) My vows were in it, my on the day schedule was in it, like… I lost it for a week, and I mentally lost it. I have one now that I bring everywhere. No matter where I’m working, it will come with me, I don’t care. I always have my planner, I always have my laptop. I always have some type of scent. So if I’m not at home, I’ll have a hand cream like the Aesop one. It’s so good, and it helps set the mood.
Being her own client
I think the reason [Joe and I] work is that space-wise, he doesn’t care. (Laughs) His requirement was just, ‘I just need a space for the tech, and everywhere I sit down, there needs to be an outlet.’ We’re renting the house, so we ordered about 10 extension cords before we even signed the lease.
I have been collecting furniture since I could afford it. I bought the dining table, and we weren’t even together yet, which was more than six years ago. I literally saw it in Evangelista on the side of the road, and I told that guy, ‘Magkano yan?’ and he goes, ‘Uh, ₱8,000?’ Book it, put it in my car! (Laughs) Stuff like that, I’ve been collecting for years. And we didn’t really buy anything new for the house. Everything is secondhand or gifted. So when we moved in Joe said, ‘Nothing’s gonna match, it’s been how many years of you buying this furniture. It’s gonna be this really confused house.’ Perfect. I love it. I love that nothing matches, and I want people to enter and not feel like, If I touch this pillow it’s gonna look out of place. I hate that idea. I think moving in was really Joe saying, ‘I trust you, just don’t touch my office.’ And me being like, yeah, it’s all gonna be fine!
So it was very simple [decorating the house], I think, cause I wasn’t trying to chase a style. I think that’s what happens when you’re an interior designer and you have a very strong desire to make everything a certain style. When things didn’t match here, it was very easy for me to be like, ‘Ah okay. It doesn’t work? I’ll find a client that it’ll work for.’ But I think the secret to the craziness was after, when everything was in place, it still feels like it’s not done. Some days I’ll be on Facebook Marketplace and be, ‘Oh! This is really cute.’ Then Joe goes, ‘We literally have something like this upstairs.’ But this is cuter! (Laughs)
Martina’s tip on designing small corners of the house
Artwork is always key. I think that especially now that we’re at home, making something for yourself is really nice to add. So I’m a spatial artist, but I don’t paint at all. I bought all these canvasses for my nieces and nephews and I had them make the art for the house. I find that stuff like that will last longer than [art] that kind of means something now that won’t later.”